Lit and Life: The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

Lisa, Lit and Life
September 26, 2012

T he Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam
Published August 2012 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

As a young man fleeing Japanese-invaded China, Chen Pie Sou travels to Vietnam, to Cholon, just outside of Saigon, where his father has settled years ago to find wealth in the rice business. Accompanying him is his young wife, a woman who has only married him as a way to leave China. When they arrive in Cholon, nothing is as Chen Pie Sou has imagined it. As the political climate changes in Vietnam, Chen must also find a way to change. With the help of a friend, Mak, Chen manages to keep the business afloat then remakes it and himself when the Americans arrive. As the headmaster of Percival Chen's English Academy, Chen has found a niche for himself. He knows just where to grease a palm, stays true to his Chinese roots and raises his son to the highest standards. But as the chasm between the North and South grows deeper, and suspicions abound, Chen will find himself constantly fighting to hold onto everything he loves but his passions may just be his undoing.

Like so many of the books I review for TLC Book Tours, I was quick to sign up for the tour for this book after reading many glowing early reviews. It is certainly everything it was purported to be and then some. I have only just finished reading it as I'm writing this review and I am exhausted. In The Headmaster's Wager, Vincent Lam brings things to a boil early and the tension never lets up. Even when long periods of relative peace pass, readers are on edge, knowing that this will not last and fearful of the awful thing that may be coming soon. Coming on the heels of Unbroken, where the Japanese takeover of all of Southeast Asia was a key element, I felt as if I were coming into The Headmaster's Wager, where that takeover is once again a catapult to much of the action, seamlessly.

It is clear that Lam, who is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, is writing from a place that is near to him, the conflict between loyalty to China but an unwillingness to leave what has been built in Vietnam. The Headmaster's Wager is a well-researched, well-written novel that seamlessly blends an incredible history lesson with a taut storyline that pulls no punches and constantly surprises the reader.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised to find that I've been able to write anything coherent about this book. As I read, I kept imagining that my review would come out something more like this:

", um, wow."

© Lit and Life 2012